Saturday’s Chautauqua Chamber Music concert on Aug. 11 will be one of the few musical events of the week that doesn’t feature any current members of the Silkroad Ensemble — but there are still multiple connections.
First of all, cellist Edward Arron was one of Silkroad’s original members. Violinist Aaron Berofsky and violist Kathryn Votapek are both on faculty at the University of Michigan, where they are close friends with fellow faculty member and original Silkroad percussionist Joseph Gramley. The Pearl Piano Quartet’s ties with the events at Chautauqua this week are proof that the music world is a small one.
At 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 11, in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall, the Pearl Piano Quartet — composed of Berofsky, Votapek, Arron, and pianist Jeewon Park — will perform Mozart’s Piano Quartet in E- at major, K. 493, and Brahms’ Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, op. 25.
Mozart’s Piano Quartet was originally meant to be the second of a set of three commissioned by a Viennese publisher.
“At that time, chamber music with piano was meant to be played by amateurs for their own pleasure,” Votapek said. “Supposedly, it wasn’t supposed to be written for concert performance, and the publisher wanted something he could put out there that people could buy and play for fun, and (the first piano quartet) was definitely too hard for that.”
Because the first one was so difficult, Mozart’s publisher ended up canceling the commission for the remaining two pieces. But Mozart composed a second piano quartet anyway, and that is the one that will be heard on Saturday’s concert.
According to Berofsky, this piano quartet is “delightful, charming, and pretty,” but also subversive in its structure. Unlike many heavily structured pieces of that time period, this work resembles a realistic conversation: sometimes themes or motifs are repeated for no apparent reason, and sometimes the piece goes off on tangents. These are all elements that improve the piece’s value, Berofsky said, but may have been edited out if the composer was writing under commission.
“Thank god he didn’t have an editor because there’s all of these things that you could have taken out, and it would have just been a pretty parlor piece,” Berofsky said. “But it’s much more intriguing this way because he was just so imaginative.”
Mozart would not go on to write a third quartet, but the other composer in Saturday’s program — Johannes Brahms — did complete three. For Votapek, they’re gems of the chamber music repertoire.
“Brahms’ three piano quartets, I think, are the most personal chamber music that he wrote, and also the most effective chamber music that he wrote,” Votapek said. “They’re more effective than his string quartets or anything else.”
The first piano quartet, she said, is so effective because it contains everything Brahms is known and loved for — the dark, brooding Brahms, the Romantic love song Brahms and the Hungarian gypsy music Brahms.
This concert will be the penultimate installment of Chautauqua Chamber Music’s Resident Artist Series. On Monday, Aug. 13, the Calidore String Quartet will complete the Guest Artist Series, and on Aug. 18, the Resident Artist Series will conclude with a program titled “River of Freedom: The Journey of Black Freedom Fighters in the War of 1812.”